This was the first solo exhibition in Canada for Shanghai based artist Xu Zhen who has emerged as one of the most inventive and provocative artists working in China today.
A co-founder in 1998 of the influential artist-run space BizArt Art Center, he has also organized seminal exhibitions including Art for Sale (1999) staged at a Shanghai shopping mall. His work is characterized by tackling authoritarian gestures and clichés of human ambition often with a wry sense of humour that counters any notion of value.
Encompassing a wide range of media, his broad practice, operating also as a curator and writer, is dramatic and knowing, aesthetically and conceptually ambitious. In fact it is exactly in order to accommodate this range of activities that Xu Zhen set up MadeIn Company in 2009 after deciding he had taken his individual identity as far as it would go. Embodying the core propositions present in his solo work, the company likes to upset the assumptions of the art establishment in ways both theatrical and humorous. The pieces they make frequently offer a satirical take on the art market while being aware of the potential to ultimately become commercial products that circulate within this system.
The Contemporary Art Gallery presented an installation, a cluster of small sculptural pieces, slightly-larger-than-life-size replicas of a mosquito. At first glance the gallery room appeared empty and yet closer inspection revealed the space occupied by insects which appeared to be sucking blood from the building, glowing red as they drink in the nutrition needed. This creature is an effective symbol and with context vital to meaning, Xu Zhen offers a subtle and witty take on cultural politics. Does this mosquito represent patrons or consumers of what the institutional art world has to offer? Or should we read the walls as skin and re-conceive the space as a kind of living organism, a surrogate body as vulnerable and susceptible as we are to parasitic opportunism?
The title also suggests the result of some government directive, the kind that characterizes a totalitarian state, whereby the elimination of these ubiquitous, annoying insects was decreed, and we now have an opportunity to see a remnant of an endangered species. Or we could be more positive. Perhaps Xu Zhen is asking us to imagine a better world, one without mosquitoes, after these last ones have sucked their last drops.
Chris Lee, Assistant Professor in the Department of English at UBC is interested in the trans-specific circulation of artistic practices and cultures. Prompted by Xu Zhen’s work and in particular his role as a contemporary Chinese artist, Chris Lee drew from his own theoretical concerns to consider the role of Chinese migrations and identities in comparative, transnational and artistic frameworks.
This series invites cultural and critical producers to present thoughts and ideas rooted in their own interests and practices, and invites audiences to join in the conversations that will explore relevant contemporary issues, theories, ideas and culture.MORE